Samantha Lane, London July 18, 2012
A London taxi uses the red Olympic lane on the M4 from Heathrow Airport into central London. Photo: Reuters
THE bus debacle that delayed the arrival of an Australian team contingent to the Olympic village by around six hours has prompted apologetic London Games organisers to review and improve their transport procedures.
While Games boss Sebastian Coe brushed off the matter as a minor teething problem after the less-than-ideal welcome for foreign athletes was highlighted prominently by the British media, Australian team boss Nick Green said it was top of the agenda at yesterday's meeting of Olympic chef de missions.
Green said the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) had vowed to train drivers better, provide them more assistance and install more signage, so that other athletes and officials would not suffer similar inconvenience after landing at Heathrow airport.
Around 30 Australians, including sailor and Beijing gold medallist Elise Rechichi, waited approximately two hours for a lift from the airport, before a journey to the Games village, that should have been a 45-minute trip, became a four-hour tour of London.
Australian team official Damian Kelly described the misadventure to The Age as a "Monopoly tour" of London after the ill-equipped driver became lost and the Olympic park was not entered in the vehicle's GPS navigation system.
An American party that included two-time world 400 metres champion Kerron Clement was also delayed for a similar period in almost identical circumstances.
While Green said the bungle had been taken in good spirit, the distinct feeling in the Australian camp yesterday was that it would be less amusing closer to competition.
"LOCOG apologised for the mishap yesterday," Green said. "Straight, up front, they said 'we apologise, there were some dramas', and they said there are a couple of things they're going to do to fix that.
"Number one, they're stepping up their training for their drivers. Number two, on occasion they will provide co-pilots... to ensure that they (the drivers) know the exact route they need to go. They're also installing additional signage around the Olympic Park precinct...it's been reported that's not adequate so they will deal with that. And they've also said that they will explore all other means to ensure that they delays...don't occur again.
"Straight up the front at the chef de missions' meeting this morning they were very clear that they've logged this as an issue and they'll deal with it immediately."
Coe was more defensive. "I don't think we should get out of proportion some of these issues," he said.
"We had a tweet yesterday talking about a four-hour delay; it was actually two-and-a-half. We had a driver who missed a turnoff, well out of a hundred coach journeys that is likely to happen. The majority of athletes got in in good shape and in good time."
Green appeared reticent to throw stones since there were similar problems early at the 2000 Sydney Olympics before trucking magnate Lindsay Fox donated around 60 experienced drivers to help out.
"It's better that it has happened now than in the throes of competition," he said.
"We won't criticise LOCOG too harshly on this matter. We know that there have been some bus challenges at various Games and Sydney was a good example where we had some significant problems in our home Games. I think at one stage Lindsay Fox brought a number of his drivers in to help out with that challenge and that was resolved."